Press Release

As The Trump Administration Attempts To Undermine Clean Water Act, Gillibrand Questions Official In Senate Hearing On How Changes Would Hurt New York Waters

Nov 20, 2019

**Watch EPW Committee Hearing Video HERE**

Washington, DC – After the Trump administration proposed new changes to the Clean Water Act that would restrict New York State’s authority to protect its water from pollution, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand questioned key officials on how this move could harm New York waterways. The Clean Water Act currently gives states the authority to review projects that could pollute nearby waterbodies, but the proposed changes would limit states’ ability to restrict polluting activities. Following Gillibrand’s questioning at an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing yesterday, one expert acknowledged that these changes would upend states’ control over water pollution and limit states’ abilities to preserve endangered species and groundwater, manage storm water, and protect land from erosion.

“We hear a lot about states’ rights, particularly from the current Administration. But not surprisingly, when states use the authority legally delegated to them under the Clean Water Act to protect water quality, we hear from those same people that those states have somehow abused their power,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The Trump Administration’s proposed changes to the Clean Water Act permitting process would put special interests ahead of New Yorkers’ water quality. This is bad policy, it is shortsighted, and could have very damaging impacts in our state.”

The Trump administration has claimed that by denying a small number of project permits, states like New York are abusing the right to review polluting activities under the Clean Water Act. Gillibrand noted at the hearing that on average, New York State approves more than 99 percent of the project permits it receives every year without significant delay. One expert, Laura Watson, Senior Assistant Attorney General and Chief Attorney for the Washington Department of Ecology, also noted that if the proposed changes to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act were implemented, states wouldn’t have the tools and information necessary to protect water quality because the Environmental Protection Agency would limit the amount of information that states can consider and the time that states could take to review projects.

Below are the questions that Senator Gillibrand asked during the hearing:

  • The Trump administration’s proposed rule would restrict the types of conditions that states can set, and give federal permitting agencies the authority to veto them. Could you describe the types of conditions that states might impose on a project that would not otherwise be included on a federal permit? What impact will this have on wetlands, streams and other water bodies impacted by the construction or operation of a project?
  • What are the practical implications of reducing the amount of time that states have to make Section 401 decisions? Will this result in more project approvals or improve water quality protection?